THE GRANADA THEATRE CIRCUIT
PART ELEVEN: THE GRANADA THEATRE WOOLWICH
THE GRANADA THEATRE WOOLWICH
PAGE TWO: THE THEATRE
The Granada Theatre Woolwich opened in April 1937 and remained a cinema until 1966 when, as a result of falling ticket sales, it was converted into a Granada Social Club. In 1991, the building was sold and became a Gala Bingo Club. After forty-three years as a Bingo Hall, the Gala Woolwich closed its doors for the final time on the 30th August, 2011. This was a sad day for the club members and they shared their expressions of loss in a short video available on You Tube.
The Gala Woolwich at Twilight ……. The end of an Era
However society was not done with the ex-Granada-ex-Gala Woolwich yet! The building was sold to the Christ Faith Tabernacle (CFT) International Churches and after a number of changes and a lot of hard work, the building has been gloriously restored and transformed into The CFT Cathedral and Ebenezer Building. The first service at the Cathedral was held in March 2013.
But between its opening in April 1937 as a theatre and its closure as a Bingo Hall and its subsequent re-opening as a CFT Cathedral, there is much to relate about The Granada Theatre Woolwich, The Most Romantic Theatre Ever Built.
THE MOST ROMANTIC THEATRE EVER BUILT
I first visited the Granada-Gala Woolwich in November 2010. I had recently been to the Granada-Gala Tooting and saw its magnificence and wanted now to see its sister building. Cecil Aubrey Masey designed the theatre except for the exterior façade, which is curved and follows the sweep of the road and which was the work of Reginald H. Uren. The theatre is built of dark brick and did not appear especially imposed or interesting except for the curvature. Unfortunately, I did not find the outside of the building to be as imposing or inspiring as the one-time Odeon just across the way. Sadly, it no longer looked as grand as it once must have looked when first opened to the public. I remember thinking that if this theatre was the most romantic cinema ever built, it could not have gained such a reputation based on its less than spectacular exterior.
The Gala Woolwich ……. changes with time
Are you able to spot the differences that occurred over time?
There are at least six differences to the Gala and a number of others to the foreground.
This is like those games that used to appear in the newspapers ……
like Spot the Ball and Spot the Differences between two pictures or drawings.
This type of puzzle can drive you nuts if you can not find the last difference!
While I was photographing the exterior of the building, I was stopped by a woman who wanted to talk about the old cinema-cum-Bingo Hall. She told me that she along with her parents and siblings had moved to Woolwich from Pakistan in the early 1950s and that her family used to enjoy going to the cinema here. She remarked how beautiful the interior was and how it always felt special to see a film there. I was surprised that she remembered so many titles of the great films shown here. Her favourites were the musicals, The King and I and Carousel. She needlessly added that she liked musicals best of all.
The lady sighed as she told me that she remembered when the cinema closed. This was a sad day for her and her family, but she was pleased when she learned that it was going to be a Bingo Hall. She told me that she plays Bingo here twice a week. She said that she liked to go, as she had many friends that also went and they always had good times and laughed a lot during these evenings out. I asked if her husband or children ever accompanied her and learned that her husband used to go, but since he developed arthritis of the knees, he no longer did, but her daughters go too, as long as they were able to get their husbands to baby sit!
When I first saw the Granada Theatre Woolwich in November 2010, it was still functioning as a Bingo Hall. I must confess that I found the building to be somewhat odd shaped and was not at all impressed with the exterior with the exception of the frontal curvature, which apparently has been referred to as a sweeping Art Deco style. Cecil Aubrey Masey designed the theatre except for the its façade, which was the work of Reginald H. Uren (1906-1988). He had been brought in to
Mr. Uren came from Christchurch in New Zealand and was responsible for a number of buildings in London including Hornsey Town Hall. His design won him the competition to find the design for this building for which he was given £150 as prize money. He later joined the firm of Slater and Moberly (later Slater & Hodnett, and now the Slater Partnership) and worked on Norfolk County Hall in Norwich and the John Lewis Department Store in Oxford Street, which has the statue, Winged Figure by Barbara Hepworth, on its right side facade.
The Granada Theatre Woolwich was constructed with a dark brick facade broken up by the presence of a number of windows and a tower to the right of the entrance. The words Gala Bingo stretched down one side when I visited the building. In addition, these words were also found high above the entrance area.
My initial impression of the theatre’s exterior was that it lacked grandeur despite the pleasing curvature. In fact compared to many other cinema buildings, the exterior struck me as being ordinary and perhaps even a little dull. However, once I went inside, my initial opinion of the theatre was greatly changed.
As the building curved into Powis Street to the right of the entrance, there were a series of advertisement cases, which obviously once announced the current and future features to play at the theatre and, which at the time of my visit, advertised the hours of the Bingo sessions and prize money that could be won by lucky patrons.
Above the entrance area was a narrow canopy on which the current programme was once advertised. Above the canopy were five tall recessed windows, which allowed light to enter and illuminate the cafe-restaurant that once existed above the entrance and outer foyer area. Above the windows, the name Granada once appeared, which was replaced later, as shown in the photograph above, by Gala Bingo.
On the right side of the facade and just above the canopy are five small rectangular windows that allowed some natural light to enter onto the balcony walkway and the inner foyer areas, but here have been closed off.
The entrance to the Granada Theatre-Gala is small, but was apparently constructed so as to face the Odeon Cinema, which is almost opposite. The entrance consists of five double glass doors, which here bear the Gala logo and are reached by climbing a few steps, several of which disappear into the ground, as they curve along Powis Street, as the building had been built on a slight incline.
As I said, the exterior is said to have touches of Art Deco (i.e. the facade was described as being in a sweeping Art Deco style), but such touches sadly escaped me. I fear that during my first visit to the theatre I lacked the necessary patience to look more thoroughly for them since I was eager to go inside, and besides, the cold wind that was blowing off the river was chilling me to the bone.
As soon as I entered the building, I could not help but begin to compare what I found there to that which I had recently seen at the Granada Theatre-Gala Tooting. Inevitable as a comparision was, and is, there is no question that the Granada Theatre Woolwich was also a special gem in the crown of The Granada Theatre Circuit and deserved to be viewed and admired as that and not just as a smaller, perhaps less grand, younger sister of the flagship theatre in Tooting.
The Granada Theatre Woolwich opened on 20th April, 1937 and had a total combined seating capacity from stalls and circle of 2,434. Although the theatres at Tooting and Woolwich shared a number of similarities in interior design, the Granada Theatre Tooting was larger and had a greater seating capacity (over 3,000). The Granada Woolwich also had a smaller number of seats than the Granada Theatre Walthamstow (2,697), but had a similar number to the Granada Theatres at Clapham Junction (2,475), and East Ham (2,468).
The theatre was 48 feet wide and 28 feet deep and was built with a full fly tower and had been fitted with a Wurlitzer organ (see below). In addition, dressing rooms had been built backstage to allow presentation of live stage shows and pantomimes.
The opening of the theatre proved to be an event. As with the openings of the first Granada Theatres at Dover and Walthamstow, those who had played a major part in the planning and building of the theatre appeared on stage seated at a table and seemingly in full activity, which was broken by a pause when their names were brought to the attention of the audience. This display of showmanship was well received by both public and press alike and each person received a thunderous round of applause. (I have to confess that I find this example of Mr. Bernstein’s flare for showmanship to be especially appealing and regret not being there to experience it.)
The films chosen for the occasion were Good Morning Boys with Will Hay and Lady Be Careful with Lew Ayres and Mary Carlisle. Apparently a number of celebrities were invited to attend including the film stars Glenda Farrell and Claude Hulbert (the younger brother of Jack Hulbert), both of whom I am sorry to say that I have never heard of! Will Hay made a Personnal Appearance on the night after the opening and his co-star, Graham Moffatt, appeared on the third night.
There was also a cartoon starring Mickey Mouse, Mickey’s Elephant. The programme also included Reginald Dixon who at The Mighty Wurlitzer and who was billed as The Ace of Organists. Interestingly, I can find no evidence that there were any other acts to provide a Live Show.
Reginald Dixon, Ace of Radio Organists ……. Over The Years
I went through the entrance doors and came into a small reception area, which had once served as the outer foyer where the box office was found. Although the area was small, it had what I can only describe as a cozy feel to it despite it being highly decorative in pseudo-Gothic style. Most of the wall area was covered by blue wallpaper with a recurring diamond-shaped motive, which was punctuated by a number of small Pilasters decorated in red and gold.
The ceiling of the outer foyer is low and ornate with beams and beading and which form recesses where the lights are housed. There are some additional wall light fixtures, but no chandeliers.
Originally the outer foyer served as the box office area and had an island box office at its centre where tickets were sold. Once the building ceased to be a theatre and underwent the necessary modifications to fit the needs of a Bingo Social Club, first as a Granada Social Club and later as a Gala Club, the box office was removed. The area was then converted into a reception area for members.
On the left wall was a large piece of frosted glass bearing the Gala logo. Above this was a large brass plaque that announced that this was the reception. In front of this area was a large wooden counter where patrons were required to sign-in before going into the auditorium to take part in a session and play Bingo.
I arrived at the Gala in the middle of an afternoon Bingo Session and found no one immediately behind the reception desk. I called out and soon a young woman came out of the office and greeted me. The young lady was very friendly and proved most helpful. I asked if I might visit the building, as I was hoping to write about it for my website. She told me that I needed to become a member of Gala Bingo in order to enter and promptly gave me a form to complete along with a pen. Once completed, she gave me my own Gala Bingo Card that I now carry in my wallet and which grants me access to any and all Gala Bingo Halls throughout the U.K whenever I wish.
I told the young lady, whose name was Lindsey, that I had not come to play, but rather to look and photograph the building. I asked if this was possible. She told me that it would be fine, but that I could not go to the balcony area since the Hall of Mirrors was in use. Apparently the manager used this venue for meetings and she was having such a gathering at this time. I asked if I might be allowed to just peep inside if I remained quiet, but she said that this was not possible. I was disappointed. Obviously realising my disappointment, the young woman knelt down and disappeared under the counter, but soon returned with a consolation prize for me. She handed me a copy of a little book about the theatre.
In fact, Lindsey had given me a copy of the Souvenir Brochure that was sold for tuppence at the opening of the theatre. The copy was in pristine condition and was still in its clear cellophane wrapper with the seal intact. This was indeed a treasure and I thanked her for her generosity.
Lindsey was in her early twenties and had worked at the Gala for about a year or so and said that she enjoyed it. She said that she spent her time between manning the reception and working at the little shop in the foyer. I took her photograph as she stood behind the counter. She gave me her email address after I asked her if she would like me to send her a copy of the photograph.
After I signed the visitors’ book, I made my way towards the three sets of double doors, which opened into the inner foyer. Just above these doors were two light fixtures attached to the ceiling. These were simple fixtures and not like the usual chandeliers found in the foyers of many Granada Theatres.
Once I went through the doors and entered the inner foyer, I was met with quite a surprise! Although the inner foyer was highly ornate and grand, I was surprised by its size. The ceiling was lower than expected and it was much smaller than I had imagined. I had visited the Granada Theatre Tooting a few days earlier and had been amazed by the immense size of its inner foyer with its high ceiling.
If the inner foyer of the Granada Theatre Tooting resembled a medieval banqueting hall, then the inner foyer of the Granada Theatre Woolwich resembled more a small anti-chamber.
I spent some time looking at, and examining, this seemingly small anti-chamber and marveled at its understated grandeur. And after studying it closely, I came to the conclusion that its size and decoration imparted a more intimate feel, which was – dare I say ……. almost cozy? As a result, I found the inner foyer of the Granada Woolwich to be much less austere in appearance compared to that of the Granada Tooting and could be said to be less ostentatious, if I may be permitted to use such a word about the most spectacular theatre built!
Despite the number of obvious similarities and differences between the two Great Granadas Theatres that I could draw attention to, I soon realised that this would serve little purpose, since both inner foyers are remarkably impressive spaces and that each may be enjoyed without the need for further, and unnecessary, comparisons.
The interior of the Granada Theatre Woolwich was designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky. Once again he treated patrons to a lavish display of his talents and produced something truly remarkable.
Mr. Komisarjevsky wrote an account of his chosen style for decoration of the theatre, which was printed in the Souvenir Brochure. He described the style as Continental Gothic and stated that the ecclestiastical look given to the interior came from the fact that he did not believe that churches were meant to depress, but were designed for religious shows, which he believed had the same origin as shows for the secular theatre. He supported his thesis by reminding readers that during the Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque periods, churches did not differ greatly from those of places of amusement.
In conclusion, Mr. Komisarjevsky stated that the aim of ecclesiastical architecture was to attract people and to offer them not only a place to pray, but also a romantic relaxation and artistic pleasure amid surroundings of hope, colourful beauty and harmony. Sidney Bernstein also believed that a theatre-cinema should offer patrons a glorious building to come to where they might not only enjoy their entertainment, but also their surroundings.
It is not difficult to understand how these two giants were able to produce many of the most glorious buildings built in 20th Century Britain, is it?
The inner foyer of the Granada Theatre Woolwich was neither as high, nor as wide or as deep as the Granada Tooting. However, despite its smaller size, it still made for an impressive site.
As soon as one enters the inner foyer, one’s eyes are immediately drawn towards the magnificent gilded staircase and paneling at the far end of the Hall. The paneling with its arches gives the structure an almost ecclesiastical appearance ……. perhaps forming part of a decorated Choir, Rood Screen or even a Cloister. Again it is not the size of the staircase and paneling that make their appearance spectacular, but the grandeur that is imparts through their delicateness.
The Grand Staircase rises up to a landing at the far wall and then divides to continue via a right and left fork to the balcony walkway. Stretching across the far wall and covering the short distance to the ceiling is the highly decorative gilded paneling consisting of nine arches. There are medieval figures painted between the final two arches at each end in the style seen in the auditorium of the Granada Theatre Tooting. These figures and those at the Granada Tooting and The Phoenix Theatre were painted by Vladimir Polunin. Mr. Polunin was a Russian-born forester-turned-artist who had worked as a designer and scenery painter for Diaghilev and was the father of the botanist-environmentalist, Nicholas Vladimir Polunin.
The Inner Foyer showing The Grand Staircase & Paneling
As it is Today ……. as the CFT Cathedral-Ebenezer Bulding
Left Insert: as it was as The Granada Theatre from the Souvenir Brochure
Right Insert: as it was during its Gala Bingo days
The photograph of the The Grand Staircase & Paneling as it is today was produced
by the combination of two photographs taken by Steve Cadman
The rail and balustrades of The Grand Staircase have a somewhat delicate appearance and consist of repeating gilded arched supports. In architectural terms, the balustrades have been described as being in a subdued Gothic form ending and ending at the foot of the staircase are Newel posts with clustered colonettes.
It continues up to the balcony walkway and follows it around its whole perimeter. At the time of opening until 1954, there was a cafe-restaurant in the balcony in the area over the outer foyer and which extended along part of the inner arm of the walkway.
The Balcony Walkway & Railing during the Granada Theatre Days
Note that the island Box Office may just be seen in the Outer Foyer.
In addition, please note the table and mirror on the far wall of the Inner Foyer
and finally please note that there is carpeting on Balcony Walkway
The Railing today in the CFT Cathedral-Ebenezer Building
This photograph is reproduced by permission of greenwich.co.uk
Theodore Komisarjevsky decorated the inner foyer with pieces of furniture such as tables and chairs just as he had at the Granada Theatre Tooting. These objets d’art were not intended for use, but to be admired. Whatever became of these pieces remains a mystery.
The Inner Foyer
Note the regal-looking chairs at the periphery and the table at the centre of the Foyer
At the far left is the entrance to the auditorium through a double door
The cloakroom is seen to the left of The Grand Staircase and an emergency exit to the right
The Inner Foyer – Outer or Right Wall
The wall was decorated along its length with a number of pointed mirrors. chairs and a table.
Note that there is no carpeting on the foyer floor in keeping with the Circuit’s policy
During its Gala Bingo days, most of the outer (right) wall of the inner foyer was taken up by a long counter where Bingo-related merchandise was sold. This was where Lindsey worked when not manning the reception. During my visit, I noted a number of books and T-shirts on the counter top ready for patrons to inspect and perhaps purchase at the end of the session.
Next to the counter and at various other places on the side walls of the inner foyer, I noted that a number of fruit machines had been installed for the pleasure of the patrons. During my visit one lady who evidently was not in the mood to play Bingo was busy feeding coins into one of the machines, but was not having any luck!
Slot or Fruit Machines Slot Machines were developed in 1891 and were originally based on the game of Poker
It was the policy of the The Granada Theatre Circuit not to cover the floors of the theatre foyers with carpet. Once the theatres were sold to Gala Coral, the foyer floors were carpeted. Here at the Gala Bingo Woolwich, carpeting with a design of repeating predominantly green floral motifs with a central area of repeating geometrical designs mainly of red and yellow had been installed.
The ceiling of Inner Foyer was of coffering with repeating motifs inside wooden squares together with a series of wooden beams arranged around an area of recess from which a large glass chandelier hung. Four smaller chandeliers hung from the beams at the corners of the recess. The chandeliers are similar to those found in the inner foyer of the Granada Theatre Tooting.
The Inner Foyer
Top: Coffered Ceiling showing the Central Chandelier together with smaller ones;
Bottom Left: Detail of the Ceiling showing repeated coffered motifs;
Bottom Center: the Central Grand Chandelier; Bottom Right: One of the smaller Chandeliers
The photographs of the Ceiling and of the Central Grand Chandelier
were taken by Steve Cadman
During my first visit to the Granada Theatre Woolwich, I was not able to walk up The Grand Staircase. This meant that I would not only be unable to see The Hall of Mirrors at all, but that I would also be unable to wander around The Circle or walk along the Balcony Walkway and explore where the cafe-restaurant once was.
Despite my disappointment, although I could not explore these areas as I would have wished, I was going to be able to see The Circle, albeit from a distance, once I entered the auditorium. And, by way of compensation, standing in the inner foyer, I was able to look up and see, again albeit from afar, where the cafe-restaurant had once been.
And as I like to say: Beggars can’t be choosers or, as the French say, faut de grives on mange des merles, and as the Americans say, if life brings you lemons ….. make lemonade (or words to that effect).
Most Granada Theatres were built with a cafe-restaurant, which initially did quite well. The Granada Theatre Woolwich had its cafe-restaurant built at the far end of The Balcony directly over the outer foyer. There were additional tables set up on the long sides of the balcony walkway. The cafe-restaurant was very popular during the Second World War years, but patronage declined once peace came and it was closed permanently in 1954. At some time, the cafe-restaurant area was walled off and was probably became used as offices and/or storage areas. With the closure, the Balcony Walkway had no further use.
On the outer (right) wall of the Balcony Walkway are five windows that look out onto Powis Street. These allowed light to enter and illuminate the inner foyer during the theatre’s early days. Above the windows were small light fixtures in the form of candle holders.
At some unknown time, the windows were covered by five rectangular mirrors with gilded frames, which remained through the Gala Bingo days. Despite the covering of the windows, the light fixtures above were maintained.
Today, following the building’s restoration and transformation into The CFT Cathedral & Ebenezer Building, the mirrors have been removed and once again daylight is allowed to flood through the windows and help illuminate the inner foyer area. In addition, I gather from photographs that the wall that was installed to close off the erstwhile cafe-restaurant has been removed and the area opened up once more and the windows of the facade are again allowing light to enter the building.
The Inner Foyer, now known as The Grand Hall, looking towards the entrance
Note that the area of the erstwhile closed off area of the cafe-restaurant has been re-opened and the windows have been reopened.
New carpeting along with book shelves have been installed along the outer wall.
This photograph appears on The CFT Cathedral-Ebenezer Building website
Despite my interest in the inner foyer, during my first visit to the Granada Theatre-Gala Woolwich I was impatient to enter the auditorium. I was eager to see if it was as impressive as I had anticipated. I recall walking down a few steps and entering the auditorium through the open doors to the left of The Grand Staircase and finding myself greeted by a site that proved to be every inch as remarkable as I had hoped.
An attempt at a Panoramic View of the Stage, Splays & Circle as they are today
This view is achieved by the careful overlap of five individual photographs of Steve Cadman
A few days earlier I had visited the Granada Theatre Tooting and found its auditorium, to say the least, spectacular. Now, here I was at its sister theatre, and standing in the auditorium for the first time! The view proved to be remarkable. The problem (!) with sights that are remarkable is that it is difficult to know where to look first.
However, after standing and staring and drinking in the full magnificence before me for a good while, I got over the reticence I was feeling and moved forward and launched into a full expedition to discover the treasures waiting to be found.
After exploring the stalls and what I could see of the circle and studying the decoration that abounded, I began to look at the auditorium in a more dispassionate manner. I sat down at a Bingo Table at the far right side of the stalls where I was able to take in as much of the vista as possible.
I soon realised that although the auditorium here at the Granada Theatre Woolwich very much resembled that of the Granada Tooting, it was smaller and could unfairly be dismissed as a pared-down version of its big sister! Such a view is perhaps dismissive and would not allow the Granada Theatre Woolwich is to be seen for what it is ……. a masterpiece in its own right.
The auditorium not only looks huge ……. it is huge! However, I have read that although the auditorium here is smaller than that of the Granada Theatre Tooting, it gives an impression of being taller. This effect was achieved by the use of ceiling steps marching across the width of the auditorium over the circle. This allows a seemingly greater overall height to be imparted than what it is in reality – a trompe l’oeil.
The ceiling over the stalls is also decorative and is coffered, has beams and recesses, but is lower than that over the circle.
Left: detail of the ceiling over the stalls from a photograph taken by Steve Cadman
Right: the left part of the photograph shows part of the ceiling over the stalls and the right part, over the circle during Gala Bingo Days
The Soffit (ceiling) Over the Rear Stalls (under the Circle) during the Gala Bingo Days
The Soffit consisted of decorative beams and recesses containing long light fixtures
The Proscenium Arch here is similar to that of the Granada Tooting, however it is not as wide and lacks curving at each end. The Arch is elaborate and brings to mind a Gothic cathedral rather than a cinema-cum-Bingo Hall. Although seemingly made of heavy material, the Arch appears light, as a result of the number of empty spaces between its struts.
In architectural terms, the Proscenium Arch is formed of: flanking corbelled buttresses and a line of quatrefoils. Above is a Gothic canopy of five trefoils under crocketed (i.e. hooked) gables separated by demi-buttresses against a background of more trefoiled niches.
Although the stage is of a smaller width (48 feet) than the Granada Theatre Tooting (68 feet), it was of sufficient size to allow stage shows to be performed until it closed as a cinema. The stages of both theatres were 30 feet high and 28 feet deep. Stage shows presented here included pantomimes each Christmas, as well as concerts given by a number of singing stars popular at the time. Later, once cinema attendance began to decline, Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage shows were presented here until the theatre was converted into a Granada Social Club.
Once the building became a Granada Social Club, and later as a Gala Bingo Club, the stage no longer served its original purpose and much of its space was given over to Bingo Tables, as shown in the following photograph:
The first part of the splay stretches from the stage to the circle and is the most decorative and resembles a medieval portal. It consists of a pointed arch surrounding a series of medieval styled decorative roses and which also incorporates a Romanesque arch supported by a series of pilasters, which serves as an exit (portal).
Medieval styled paintings are present on either side of the large Pointed Arch
from a photograph taken by Steve Cadman
These tapestries were woven in Flanders in wool and silk and are now housed at the Musee National du Moyen Age at the Thermes et Hotel de Cluny in Paris. The tapestries consist of a cycle of six individual tapestries woven in the style known as mille-fleurs and are believed to depict the five senses. The sixth tapestry, which displays the words Mon Seul Désir, has been interpreted to represent love or understanding. Each tapestry shows a noble lady with the unicorn on her left and a lion on her right amid numerous flowers together with various other animals.
The Lady and the Unicorn
The Sixth Tapestry, Mon Seul Désir
The Unicorn, a mythological beast, has found a place in many cultures
Detail of the Left Splay showing the Unicorn and the Lion
from a photograph taken by Steve Cadman
I have not been able to prove conclusively that it was Vladimir Polunin (although English Heritage seem to think so) who was responsible for the paintings of the unicorn and the lion. However since it was he who painted the panels of The Grand Staircase, it would not be too much of a stretch to assume that he did.
NOTE: I was looking at these paintings of the unicorn and the lion recently and noticed at the base of each painting are the words: Mon Seul Désir.
Note the inscription, Mon Seul Désir at the base
and also the motifs of Quatrefoils & Trefoils beneath
Above the crocheted pointed arch of each Splay and stretching up to the ceiling are two small series of arches, the lower being of pointed arches and the upper of round arches. In Gothic Architecture, the pointed arch was often used to decorate a cathedral or church facade, as well as part of the interior walls. When small arches were used to decorate a wall, as seen here at with the Splays of the Granada Theatre Woolwich, the series is referred to as blind arcading and the opening of each arch is called a niche and would often be used to hold a small statue. Above the painting of the lion is a tall arch and above the unicorn, two narrower, but equally as tall arches rising up to the ceiling.
Blind Arcading above the Pointed Arch of The Splay
From a photograph of Steve Cadman
The second part of each Splay is transected by the start of the circle. The decoration of the area above the circle resembles the Gothic windows consisting of a number of trefoil arches seen in many cathedrals and churches of the Middle Ages. Adjacent to the window in the circle is the third part of the Splay, which consists of five slender pointed arches that are positioned at an angle.
The Second & Third Parts of the Splay
Left: During the Gala Bingo Days;
Centre: the area of the second part of the Splay beneath the Circle
from a photograph taken by Steve Cadman;
Right: A window at Notre Dame de Paris
The area of the second part of the Splay beneath the undulating circle parapet is a simple doorway with a decorative area above consisting of a rose motif and four small pointed arches inside a larger arch. Although simple, it is effective in adding to the overall effect of the decoration.
Beyond the Splays, the walls of the stalls during the Gala Bingo Days were remarkably simple and lacking in decoration often seen at a number of other Granada Theatres. The only decoration I noticed on the walls of the rear stalls were framed advertisements that publicised Bingo Jackpots to be won etc. At the rear of the auditorium against the right wall was a small series of steps that led up to a bar, which was closed during my visit. In addition, there was a cafe at the back of the auditorium, which allowed patrons to eat and sup without too much interruption to their game-playing.
- the entrance to the Circle is via doors at the back of the auditorium; the undulating Circle parapet with stiff-leaf decoration and rows; the separation of the Circle into Front & Rear areas; the lack of wall decoration except for a series of pseudo-windows close to the ceiling (not seen well here unfortunately); a walkway behind the seats of the rear Circle; high up on the rear wall are openings to allow film to be projected; and
- the lack of wall decoration of the rear stalls except for the occasional framed advertisement on the side walls; the presence of a few steps up to a bar in the corner, Fruit Machines along the back wall together with the presence of the snack bar; and the absence of the transverse partition at the back of the stalls, which once allowed provision for a walkway across the auditorium;
- and not shown in the photograph ……. The entrance to the stalls was via doors at the rear of the auditorium at the corner ……. and, presumably, the absence of a raked floor from the rear of the auditorium towards the front stalls area.
Comparing the view shown in the previous photograph of the rear stalls & Circle of the Gala Bingo Club with the following view of the rear stalls from The Souvenir Brochure at the time of opening of the Granada Theatre reveals that a number of changes to the area had been introduced over the years.
- the presence of a decorative partition or balustrade along the side wall and behind the stall seating, thereby allowing free access across the auditorium and along the side walls;
- the presence of emergency exit doors at the rear right corner;
- some decoration on the right wall;
- a decorative ceiling of beams and recesses together with small Granada-style chandeliers hanging from it; and
- the presence of a raked floor sloping down towards the front stalls.
I presume that the changes to the theatre were made once the closed as a part-time cinema and underwent conversion into a Granada Social Club. The Granada Theatre Woolwich had offered Bingo sessions on Tuesdays from the 5th December, 1961, but more of this and the conversion later.
In my opinion, it is unfortunate that the decorative balustrades once present along the sides and rear of the auditorium were removed and presumably lost. I presume that these and the small chandeliers that once hung from the ceiling over the rear stalls were removed during the building’s transformation into a Bingo Club.
Although it would have been an added bonus to see the balustrades returned during the building’s restoration and conversion into the CFT-Cathedral, there can be no doubt that those involved in this remarkable restoration have done a wonderful job and deserve our congratulations and above all our grateful thanks.
The Ceiling Under the Circle
Top: the ceiling during the Gala Bingo Days
Bottom: the ceiling following restoration and conversion to CFT Cathedral
This photograph appears on the CFT Cathedral-Ebenezer Building website
While standing in the stalls during my first visit to the Gala Bingo Woolwich, I was able to make out in the Circle, a series of pointed pseudo-windows just beneath and parallel to the ceiling. Unfortunately, due to the poor lighting of the auditorium at the time of my visit, I was not able to produce a good photograph of these decorative features.
Part of the Auditorium from the Circle during the Gala Bingo Days
Note the presence of Bingo Tables on the Stage and
the presence of pseudo-windows on the upper wall of the Circle
(which can just be seen with careful looking)
This photograph was taken by Ken Roe and appears at Cinema Treasures
From my place in the front stalls, I was also able to note the undulating form of the balustrade or parapet of the Circle and of the rows behind it. The undulation is accentuated at each end where it serves to divide the second area of the Splay into upper and lower sections. The undulating features of the Circle seating was a characteristic of the architect, Cecil Aubrey Masey and is a feature that appears in many of the theatres that he worked on.
For the opening of the theatre, a Wurlitzer 3Manual/8Rank Organ had been installed. Reginald Dixon, the Ace of Radio Organists, as he was billed, played the Mighty Wurlitzer during the opening procedures.
The organ was played often by a number of renowned organists, as part of a series of programmes produced by the BBC with Lloyd Thomas being the first to play it to the listening public in August 1937. These radio concerts continued for a number of years and were very popular with listeners. I remember listening to them as a child and remember once having a request played!
The playing of the organ became an integal part of the programme presented at the theatre for many years, but in 1971, the organ console was removed from the auditorium and stored backstage.
Unfortunately, the organ was later sold and removed before the theatre became an English Heritage listed building in 1974. The organ was used in part to enlarge another Wurlitzer Organ in Carlisle with the remaining pieces going into storage.
In 1992 the owner advertised the organ for sale and Mr. John Smallwood bought it together with a Bluthner Grand Piano, which had been partially modified to be played from the organ console. Between 1992 and 1996, Mr. Smallwood along with some friends set to work to overhaul the organ and return it to working order. Following the restoration, he arranged with the Tywyn Town Council in Tywyn, Gwynedd, Wales, which at that time operated the local community hall, Neuadd Pendre, on behalf of Gwynedd Council, to install the organ in the hall. The first concert given at this venue was in May 1996. More recently the hall was sold to a Trust, which has been actively involved in an expensive refurbishment. The photographs shown here of the organ were taken following the completion of this work. The organ remained the property of Mr. Smallwood, but he has generously allowed it to be on permanent loan to the Trustees.
The Tywyn Wurlitzer Organ
Installed at the Granada Theatre Woolwich until 1971
and moved to Tywyn, Gwynedd, Wales
Additional pieces played on the Tywyn Wurlitzer:
The Dancing Tamborine – played by Peter Hayward
Deep Purple & Stardust – played by Peter Hayward
I wanna be happy – played by Mark Laflin
For more pieces played on this wonderful organ,
go to You Tube, where many more may be found.
The Woolwich Console installed in its present home, Neuadd Pendre, in
Tywyn, Gwynedd, Wales UK LL36 9DP.
The photographs of the Tywyn Wurlitzer appear by permission of Mr. John Smallwood
Sadly by the time I visited the theatre, not only had the organ long since been removed, but the orchestra pit had also been lost. However, thank goodness for You Tube and Mr. John Smallwood and the Town Council of Tywyn who have ensured that the organ continues to be heard.
Click here to see photographs of the Organ in Tywyn taken by Mr. Paul Bland
I spent quite some time wandering around the auditorium during my first visit. I was secretly hoping that the manager’s meeting in The Hall of Mirrors might end and that I would then be allowed to slip up The Grand Staircase and explore The Hall and the Circle. But alas, the meeting went on and on and it was getting late and I needed to leave. And so, I looked for Lindsey to say thank you and to wish her well. And with that, I made my way out of the theatre and into the night.
It was dark outside and the area was busy with traffic. Neither the old Granada nor the old Odeon across the way looked particularly inviting in this light. Neither was illuminated, as they must have been during their cinema days. As I stood and looked at the area, it was hard to believe that this was once a busy centre of entertainment and a terminus for the old trolleybus routes.
It was not until a year later that I was able to make my second visit to the Granada Theatre-Gala Woolwich. Once again I was going in November and once again it was quite cold when I took the ferry. Despite the cold, I was filled with hope that I would soon be climbing The Grand Staircase and being able to explore the Circle and The Hall of Mirrors.
Tragically during my first visit, the manager had commandeered The Hall of Mirrors for a meeting and the area had been off-limits. I hoped that this was not going to happen again. However, there was a surprise in store for me, and one which I was not expecting.
The ferry took an age to dock. When it had, I got off and made my way out of the terminus and crossed the busy road and continued on in the direction of the Gala.
I should have guessed that something was up, as even from far off, I could see that there was no one in front of the Gala Bingo, and once I got nearer, I saw that there was no activity going on inside.
When I got to the entrance, all became clear. I was surprised to find that the building was closed and that the doors were locked.
Immediately my heart sank! All I could think was ……. am I going to be denied once more a visit to The Hall of Mirrors? I noticed a passer by coming along Powis Street and so I stopped him and asked what had happened to the Gala Bingo.
I learned that the Gala Bingo had closed sometime earlier and had been sold and was to become a church.
The building had been sold to Christ Faith Tabernacle (CFT) International Churches and seemingly work was just about to begin on its transformation into the CFT Cathedral and Ebenezer Building.
I had not heard of the sale of the building and was apprehensive about being allowed to go inside. It is difficult to enter a building about to be transformed for some other usage, as it tends to be left in the hands of a caretaker or watchman who is rarely accommodating to the needs of someone such as me.
I remember when I went to the Gaumont State Kilburn after it closed as a Bingo Hall and was being transformed into a church (Ruach City Church). I was denied entry by a very unfriendly watchman. When I telephoned the new owners, I was told that the building’s insurance did not cover any injury I might sustain should I be allowed entry. As a result, the policy of the owners was to not allow the public inside until the restoration was complete. Of course this makes sense ……. but still ……. nothing ventured, nothing lost!
(In December 2011, I returned to the erstwhile Gaumont State Kilburn, which had by then opened and functioning as a Ruach City Church, and was given a tour of the building by several staff members who were most gracious and keen to answer my questions.)
As I said, I found the entrance doors locked with only a few small lights burning in the outer foyer. I peered through the glass doors and looked for any signs of life. There was none.
I knocked on one of the doors. There was no reply. I knocked again and a little louder. Suddenly I saw a young man come out from the office of the old reception area . He walked to the entrance and told me that the building was closed. I told him that I had come a long way to visit The Hall of Mirrors and asked if he might not let me in. The young man looked at me for a minute or two and obviously decided that I was harmless and then opened the door to me. I explained how I had visited the building a year earlier and that I had been unable to visit the Hall. I told him about my plan to write a series of The Granada Theatre Circuit and this was one of its gems.
The young stood there without moving for what seemed like an age while staring at me and saying nothing. He was certainly too young to remember the building in its days as a theatre. I asked again, this time in a pleading manner, to be allowed to see the Hall and take a few photographs. I explained to him that the building was a National Treasure and that it had been listed by English Heritage. I further explained that the building was famous and that there were many people who were interested in seeing photographs of it before any changes were made by the new owners. I told him that I would not take long and that I would much appreciate his kindness. Eventually he said that he would show me the Hall, but that it had to be quick, as he was about to go home for the day.
I entered the outer foyer and noted the absence of the reception desk. I wondered what had become of Lindsey. I did not ask as I am sure that the young man would not know. (Later I learned that Lindsey had left the Gala Woolwich a few months after my initial visit and had moved to Northamptonshire along with her baby and husband.)
We went through the open doors and into the inner foyer. The light was dim, but The Grand Staircase still looked remarkable and impressive. There were all kinds of tools and pots of paint on the floor. I suspected that work on the building would soon begin.
We started to climb the staircase and when we got to the landing, I stopped in order to look at the paneling more closely. I asked the young man a number of questions in order to slow him down, as I needed to look at the paneling and the paintings more closely and, despite the poor lighting, try to take some photographs.
The young man was impatient and so we continued on to the top where we turned turned left and continued on towards The Hall of Mirrors.
The Hall was in darkness. The young man disappeared leaving me alone in The Hall. Suddenly, there was light and I could see it in all of its faded glory. Even though it had long been neglected, The Hall of Mirrors was still very impressive and had a Moorish look to it. Unfortunately the light was not as bright as I would have hoped, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I did my best to photograph it in record time.
Each time the young man said that we had to leave, I asked him another question. Now I chose to ask about the church since I knew that he had to know about the new owners. He brightened up at this and became accommodating once more and told me about the minister and the church and was obviously very happy to be associated with them.
The Hall of Mirrors or Circle Foyer is described in architectural terms as being of seven bays divided by mirror-faced pilasters. Each inner side bay contains a mirror above a low bench, with twisted columns in the jambs and under a trefoil head, flanked by columns with composite capitals. The outer side bays form an arcade in front of the wide aisle.
The Hall of Mirrors was built as a waiting area for patrons to the Circle. Imagine waiting here to see one of the great CinemaScope films of the past! The Hall was built under the Circle and had two openings, one at each end, that led to the Circle. The entrances to the Circle were at the rear of the auditorium.
All too soon, the young man told me that he had to close up. I had wanted to ask him to allow me slip up the steps and take a quick look at the Circle, but decided that since he had been kind enough to allow me to see The Hall of Mirrors, I would not outstay my welcome …….. despite very much wanting to!
I took his photograph on the walkway, which he seemed to enjoy and then we went down The Grand Staircase. I am afraid that I could not resist asking him to allow me to visit the toilet, knowing full well that it was in the auditorium. What could he say? He said that only an emergency light was on there, but that I should be able to find my way.
I went through the large double door, as I had a year earlier, and was met by yet another surprise! The auditorium was now an empty space. All of the seats and Bingo Tables had been removed and the space was now one large cavernous space. The stage was dark and empty too. There was one light illuminating the door under the right pointed arch. I wanted to take a photograph, but even with flashlight, the result was poor.
I rejoined the young man and we made our way to the outer foyer with only me talking. He unlocked an exit door and after thanking him for his kindness, we shook hands and I left. He quickly relocked it and in a second or two was gone, leaving me alone standing on the outer step.
During its time as a cinema, the Granada Theatre Woolwich normally screened Gaumont, ABC and Independent releases. Odeon releases were shown at the Odeon Cinema across the way. Films shown at the Odeons were considered the top of the line by the Rank Organisation and those shown at the Gaumonts, of perhaps lesser value. In 1955, once the Regal Woolwich opened, the ABC releases were shown there from that time on.
The theatre, like all others, began to suffer from the decline in ticket sales, as television became more and more popular. This decline was eased for a short time once 20th Century Fox and The Rank Organisation had a disagreement over CinemaScope screenings, and fell out, thereby allowing the Essoldo and the Granada Theatre Circuit to form a fourth circuit and screen their films. However, this advantage did not last long, and tickets sales declined once more, and accelerated once 20th Century Fox and Rank made up!
In January 1959, the Rank Organisation, which owned both the Odeon and the Gaumont Cinema Circuits, changed its policy and brought both circuits under the same banner in terms of screenings. Rank introduced a Rank release for its prime Odeons and Gaumonts and a National release for its lesser cinemas. This new policy hit the Granada Theatre Woolwich badly, as the Rank release went to the Odeon Woolwich just across the road leaving the Granada the choice of taking either the National release or looking elsewhere for an Independent release.
In the early 1960s, cinemas began to close in increasing numbers. The National release programme was ended in October 1961, although the most successful Rank cinemas continued to screen its prime programming while its less successful cinemas that were still open offered less important releases.
The Granada Theatre Circuit combated the decline in ticket sales in a number of ways. Stage Shows were increased in number, which took the form of Sunday Night Concerts at the Granada Woolwich. Johnny Ray, Nat King Cole, Slim Whitman and Guy Mitchell appeared here, as did a number of British performers, including David Whitfield, Max Bygraves and Dickie Valentine. Concerts were later moved to Friday evenings.
Towards the end of the 1950s, the Granada Theatre Circuit, like the other circuits, began to book Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage Shows. These shows proved to be successful and filled the auditorium throughout from the late 1950s until the building’s closure as a cinema. Most of the most successful acts from both sides of the Atlantic appeared here during this time.
Professional Free-Style Wrestling became a staple form of entertainment at a number of Granada Theatres throughout the 1960s. Its first presentation at a Granada Theatre was here at Woolwich in April 1959 where the event proved to be a success and led to other such evenings both here and at other Granada Theatres.
It was in 1961 that the first cinemas in Britain began to be converted in Bingo Clubs. Granada moved slowly into this area of entertainment, and when it did, it was generally offered on a limited basis. The first Granada Theatre to offer Bingo was the Century Mansfield, which did so on Wednesdays and Fridays only.
The Granada Theatre Woolwich has the distinction of being the first of the original purpose-built theatres of the Circuit to offer Bingo. Apparently, Granada was not initially in favour of allowing the introduction of Bingo to its theatres, although Sidney Bernstein was not of this mind. He thought it a good idea mainly because it was profitable. Slowly but surely, Mr. Bernstein won over the support of his fellow board members and Granada began to introduce Bingo Sessions to many of its theatres on a limited basis.
The Granada Theatre Woolwich offered Bingo Sessions on Tuesdays starting on 5th December, 1961 with films continuing to be screened during weekends. However in April 1965, the theatre returned to the full time screening of films, which continued until the 26th October, 1966 when the theatre closed as a cinema. The final films screened were Primitive London, a documentary, and Saturday Night Out with Heather Sears. Closure of the theatre as a cinema occurred before the trend to convert such large theatres as this into twin or triple screens took hold of the cinema chains.
On the 30th October, 1966, just four days after its closure as a cinema, the Granada Theatre Woolwich and erstwhile Most Romantic Theatre in the World, re-opened as a Granada Social Club. The building functioned in this capacity for almost twenty-five years until May 1991 when Granada sold its Social Clubs to Gala Coral and marked the end of an era.
As a stood in front of the ex-Granada Theatre Woolwich, now in darkness except for one light in the reception, I thought about its history. It had made a spectacular theatre and was a wonderful memorial to the giants that build it. This had been recognised on the 7th January, 1974, when English Heritage bestowed a Grade II listing on this building. Although the building is no longer of value to society as a cinema, I felt certain that the self-proclaimed World’s Most Romantic Theatre would soon rise from the ashes just as other Granada Theatres had and continue to serve the community in a new capacity for a long, long time in the future.
In March 2013, the former Granada Theatre-Gala Bingo Woolwich opened and held services as the Christ Faith Tabernacle (CFT) Cathedral, Ebenezer Building. To see the remarkable restoration of the building and conversion into a church and centre, please …….
I think that Christ Faith Tabernacle (CFT) deserves our thanks and our congratulations for having restored this wonderful building to its former glory. CFT has done an excellent job.
Some of the history of the theatres appearing here came from The Granada Theatres by Allen Eyles. I would like to thank Mr. Eyles for his great book.
I would like to thank Mr. John Smallwood of The Cinema Organ Society (COS) for his kindness in allowing the photographs of the Tywyn Organ (originally installed at the Granada Theatre Woolwich) to appear here and for providing its later history. I would also like to thank Mr. Paul Bland for his link to his photographs of this Organ.
I would like to thank Mr. Wayne Ivany for providing the photographs of Reginald Dixon at The Mighty Wurlitzer of the Granada Theatre Woolwich and allowing them to appear here.
I would also like to thank Mr. Steve Cadman who has taken some remarkable photographs of the Granada Theatre Woolwich in its new incarnation, as the CFT Cathedral, Ebenezer Building.